|Pic by Jakayla Toney|
IT’S HARD TO ARGUE that Jesus didn’t break any rules in his day―breakages he never apologised for. Some of his more well-known misdemeanors involved forbidden Sabbath activities.
So the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed,
“It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”’
But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me,
‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” -John 5
Halakha (Jewish law) identifies thirty-nine categories of activity prohibited on the Sabbath. Jesus broke several of these getting both himself and his followers in troubles with the boys who liked to think they had more authority to wield then what God had given to them. We see his disciples following his lead after Christ had left the scene in the years following. When the civic leaders of Jerusalem told the disciples to stop holding their large meeting outside the temple, they replied, ‘We must obey God rather than man.’
But just before you think Jesus was trying to be the bad boy of early rabbinic Judaism, we see he also obeyed laws when he didn’t have to. In Matthew 17.24, the disciples encounter a tax that Jesus seems to say is illegitimate. Yet Jesus pays it anyway. Why? ‘So that we may not offend.’
What should we make of this? First, Jesus questions the legitimacy of this tax. Then he pays it because he doesn’t want to offend. Is this the same Jesus who offended numerous other times in breaking the hand washing, grain picking, and healing rules? Why break those but not this one? Why cause offence in one situation but not in another?
One might also call to mind Paul who, upon his return from a foreign mission trip, submitted to a burdensome one-week quarantine in the temple in order not to offend certain Jews (Acts 21.24-26). Is this the same Paul who caused riots elsewhere? Are Paul and Jesus inconsistent?
What’s more, where does this leave Christians? When the government misuses its authority (or presumes more than what God has granted it) should Christians comply or resist?
Discernment comes with maturity. Spiritual maturity is more than age or years lived as a Christian. This maturity is produced by a history of right responses to the Holy Spirit. When we have this maturity, the prioritises of God’s Kingdom become our priorities. When faced with a decision of whether to comply with or resist a law, we look to see what is best for the Kingdom. Sometimes it’s best not to offend. At other times, offensive rulebreaking might be best for the advance of the gospel.
Scripture says to ‘honour the king’. We always want to speak well of the Prime Minister or President even when we, in good conscience, cannot comply with a particular law. We might think of Daniel, who refused to eat the king’s food, but who respectfully expressed this decision. We don’t join the social media mobs in mocking authority figures. We obey magistrates when doing so doesn’t interfere with the calls Christ gives us.
When civil law interferes with the calls of Christ, however, we put Christ first. Even respectful Daniel’s friends were thrown into the fire pit shortly after the food incident for failing to comply with a law about kneeling to a statue.
Paul and Jesus sometimes broke the rules because those rules stood in the way of gospel advancement. Jesus saw some of these laws as ‘heavy burdens’ (Matt 23.4) put on the people that kept them from joining in the Father’s work. At other times, however, both Jesus and Paul complied with numbskull rules because doing so opened doors for the gospel.
The questions we now face are: what is best for the gospel? Are the current governmental laws that extend to church worship too burdensome? Do they hinder us in obedience to the God of Scripture? Does resisting or complying help us better call people to repentance?
The answers may depend on our country or state. But, if we discern that the path of Christ cuts across the dictates of certain civil dictates, then may we be prepared to pay whatever prices are necessary to do so.